IP Ratings
Headphones

Updated

It can be devastating to lose your headphones to the elements. Whether you've accidentally lost them in a pool, dropped them on concrete, or used them in the rain or a very dusty environment, foreign material can get inside your electronics and cause damage to their internal components. Luckily, some devices come with a code or rating to let you know their water, solids, and impact resistance levels. IP ratings or 'Ingress Protection' ratings give the consumer, manufacturer, and retailers a quick way to know a device's protection capabilities. Unlike buzzwords like 'waterproof' or 'water-resistant', IP ratings are also given out by an independent company and are globally standardized, so you can expect the same level of protection between two different devices with the same IP rating.

While we don't currently test these ratings and we only report what the manufacturer has advertised, this article explains what IP and IK ratings are in-depth, as well as how to read and interpret them.

What Are IP Ratings?

IP codes or ratings stand for 'Ingress Protection' and are standardized by the IEC or the International Electrotechnical Commission, which is an international organization that forms global standards for electronic related technology. This rating is covered within IEC standard 60529, so the same result is comparable between different devices. For many consumer-grade products, it's up to the manufacturer to get their device tested by an independent, certified company to receive an IP rating. However, testing can be pricy and some manufacturers may opt-out of this step to save money, resulting in a product that doesn't have a rating.

IP ratings are written in an IPXX format to quickly tell the reader what kind of protection their device has. The first 'X' represents the numerical scoring of your device's ability to protect against the ingress or entering of foreign solids like dust, while the second 'X' represents its numerical ability to protect against liquids such as water into the device. Some IP ratings even include an additional single letter after these numbers to indicate further kinds of protection, but this kind of information isn't generally needed for consumer-grade electronic devices. There's also a separate code for impact protection called IK ratings, which was first defined by the European standard EN 62262 and then later adopted by the IEC in standard IEC 62262 (2002).

While not all manufacturers test, list, or disclose their product's IP rating, available ratings can be a useful way to avoid damage to your electronic devices in the future. Some manufacturers may use also NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) enclosure type coding. This is a North American standard for protection against environmental conditions like ice and corrosive material. However, we currently don't test or report these tests.

The First Digit: Solid Object Protection

The first digit of an IP rating refers to how well that device protects against solids like dust and dirt entering it. For home electronic devices like headphones, we usually describe dust resistance rather than larger solid foreign objects like wires as these devices usually have very sealed designs that make it difficult for larger solids to get in.

IP Number Protection Provided
X

 There's no information available to specify its solid object resistance.

0 Not protected against any solid object.
Protected against a solid object greater than roughly 2 inches (50mm), such as a hand.
2

 Protection against a solid object greater than roughly 0.5 inches (12.5mm), like a finger.

3

Protection against a solid object greater than roughly 0.1 inches (2.5mm), like a thin tool.

Protection against a solid object greater than 1mm, like a wire.
5 Protection against dust for between 2-8 hours.
Fully dust-tight.

Generally speaking, some manufacturers don't provide a number for this kind of foreign material as they don't test for it, and many of the headphones we have tested that do have a solid object protection rating tend to fall between IP5X-IP6X.

The Second Digit: Liquid Ingress Protection

The second digit refers to moisture resistance and how well a device is protected against water. However, unlike the solid object protection digit which is measured by the size of foreign material entering the device, liquid ingress protection is measured by angle, intensity, immersion, and pressure. In other words, this rating takes into account the several different ways that liquid can get into your device. These ratings aren't cumulative, so while a device may be rated IPX7 for full water immersion, it may not hold up against other tests such as IPX6 which uses powerful water jets. However, if an item has passed several tests, its rating appears as IPX6/IPX7.

IP Number Protection Provided Test Duration Notes
X

 There is no information available to specify its water-resistance.

N/A

 

0 No water resistance. N/A  
Dripping water. 10 minutes Protection against vertically falling water, which includes condensation and light rain.
2

 Dripping water tilted at 15°.

10 minutes Protection against light rain.
3

Water sprays up to 60° vertical.

5 minutes

Protection against rain or getting sprayed.

Water splashes from all directions. 5 minutes Protection against splashes of water like that from a car running through a puddle.
5 Low-pressure jets from a nozzle with a 0.25 inch (6.3mm) diameter at any direction. 3 minutes

Protection against direct contact with water like kitchen faucets or rain.

High-pressure jets from a nozzle with a 0.5 inches (12.5mm) diameter from any angle. 3 minutes Protection against direct contact with water and are generally suitable for outdoor use.
7

Full immersion for up to 30 minutes at depths between 6 inches to roughly 3.3 feet (15cm to 1 meter).

30 minutes

Protection against immersion in water.

Extended immersion under higher pressure. 30 minutes Protection against submersion in water deeper than 3.3 feet (1 meter).
9K

Protection against high pressure, high-temperature jet sprays, wash-downs, steam cleaning.

30 seconds to one minute

Protection against steam cleaning and high-pressure water. This is very rare for home electronic products.

Unlike the solid object protection rating, a lot of headphones have a liquid ingress protection rating as they can easily come into contact with sweat and water. Many headphones advertised for sports use or other physical exercise tend to have a minimum rating of IPX4 or higher, such as the Beats Powerbeats Pro Truly Wireless or the Bose Sport Earbuds Truly Wireless, so they can handle light sweat. However, if you're looking for a water-resistant device that can handle more sweat or be used in unpredictable weather, you'll definitely want to consider something with an IPX5-IPX7 rating, such as the Jabra Elite Active 75t Truly Wireless, which are rated IP57. Conversely, if you want a pair of earbuds you can wear while swimming, then you should aim for an IPX8 rating, as the IPX7 rating is limited to only 30 minutes of water exposure when submersed at a maximum of 3.3 feet.

It should be noted that there are some headphones out there that have a lower score in this category but aren't a bad choice for a walk in the park. The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ Truly Wireless, for example, have an IPX2 rating, which indicates protection from water dripping at an angle. While they may survive very limited contact with water and sweat, they aren't the best choice for high-intensity workouts since they're constantly exposed to liquid. They should hold up during day-to-day use if you're wearing them at work or on your commute, though.

Overall, if you're looking for water or sweat-resistant headphones for working out, you should consider devices with an IPX5-IPX7 rating. If you're looking for some options, check out our recommendations for the best wireless earbuds for running and working out. That said, you may also want to consider the overall build of your device as well. Wood detailing can warp and break with long-term water exposure while metal grilles or screws can become rusty, which can reduce the headphones' protective abilities over long-term use.

IK Ratings: Impact Protection

If you're prone to dropping your electronic device, you may want to consider its IK rating, or its Impact Protection. The IK rating reflects how protected your device is from damage when dropped onto a surface, depending on impact energy (measured in joules). This scoring is very similar in representation to IP ratings and uses the IPXX format. However, it uses 'K' to signify 'kinetic' and it is defined in the international standard IEC 62262 (2002). It should be noted that we don't currently test for this kind of protection, and we report the rating provided by the manufacturer.

IK Number Protection Provided Notes
X

 There is no information available to specify its impact resistance.

 

0 No impact resistance.  
Protected against 0.14 joules of impact. Equivalent to impact of roughly 0.55lbs (0.25kg) dropped from roughly 2.2 inches (56mm) above impacted surface.
2

 Protected against 0.2 joules of impact.

Equivalent to impact of roughly 0.55lbs (0.25kg) mass dropped from roughly 3.1 inches (80mm) above impacted surface.
3

Protected against 0.35 joules of impact.

Equivalent to impact of roughly 0.55lbs (0.25kg) mass dropped from roughly 5.5 inches (140mm) above impacted surface.

Protected against 0.5 joules of impact. Equivalent to impact of roughly 0.55lbs (0.25kg) mass dropped from roughly 7.9 inches (200mm) above impacted surface.
5 Protected against 0.7 joules of impact.

Equivalent to impact of roughly 0.55lbs (0.25kg) mass dropped from roughly 11 inches (280mm) above impacted surface.

Protected against 1 joule of impact. Equivalent to impact of roughly 0.55lbs (0.25kg) mass dropped from roughly 15.648 inches (400mm) above impacted surface.
7

  Protected against 2 joules of impact.

Equivalent to impact of roughly 1.1lbs (0.5kg) mass dropped from 15.648 inches (400mm) above impacted surface.

 Protected against 5 joules of impact. Equivalent to impact for roughly 3.7lbs (1.7kg) mass dropped from 11.811 inches (300mm) above impacted surface.
9

 Protected against 10 joules of impact.

Equivalent to impact of roughly 11lbs (5kg) mass dropped from roughly 7.9 inches (200mm) above impacted surface.

10  Protected against 20 joules of impact. Equivalent to impact of roughly 11lbs (5kg) mass dropped from 15.648 inches (400mm) above impacted surface.

Conclusion

If you're planning to use your headphones outside or if you think they may be exposed to water, dust, or impacts, it's helpful to know their IP and IK rating. While some manufacturers may claim that their products are 'waterproof' or 'weatherproof', the IP rating clearly indicates the kinds of protection your devices have against foreign solids, liquids, and impacts. However, not all products have IP ratings and even if they do, it isn't guaranteed protection forever, since wear and tear from regular use can also weaken your device's protective abilities over time. That said, selecting a device that's designed and has been assessed with these ratings ensures you're not in for a nasty surprise if you accidentally spill water on your headphones or drop it.

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